A terrific movie came out in 2015 depicting the true story of two unlikely world-class athletes who defied each of their country’s expectations and broke several international barriers of skin color, ethnicity, and ideology– and the 1936 Olympic Games.
RACE tells the story of one black American who faced challenges at home to even make it to the Olympics and the white German academic and athlete he befriends.
American athlete Jesse Owens defied all odds and broke every record to make it to Germany. Once in Germany, he became friendly with a competitor and record holder in the long jump, German athlete, Carl “Luz” Long. Owens credits Long for helping him win the Long Jump. Had Long not come to his aid in the qualifying round, he would not have made it to the final competition.
But Long’s actions did more than that. His friendship and public support of his competitor– a black man– went against the Führer’s wishes and the Nazi Campaign at the Olympics to show that all races were inferior to the German Aryans.
In his final jump, Owens beat Long and the Olympic record, jumping an incredible 26.5 feet and 1/3 inches. After his winning jump, Owens describes in the below documentary that:
“The first one to greet me was Lutz Long. And took a special courage. He put his arm around me and we walked down the broad jump runway directly in front of Chancellor Hitler.”
News coverage reported that Owens remarked afterwards,
“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
Owens accomplished a feat unachievable by politicians or military might. He overturned the Nazi Party’s propaganda of “Aryan racial superiority” by winning four gold medals in Berlin. But also, with an unexpected and unlikely camaraderie with a German competitor.
Owens describes the electricity in the air and the experience of competing in Berlin, Germany, in 1936 before the dawn of World War II:
Owens and Long’s sportsmanship and geniality proved to everyone that healthy competition, athleticism, and friendship was found in character and talent, not in skin color, ethnicity, or political ideology.
Owens never saw Long again after the Olympics. Long was killed in battle at age 30, in 1943. But his memory lives on, and fortunately, Owens was able to tell Long’s son about his father and their special relationship years later.